0050 – Cap: Step Up, Part 5

Cap had not, ultimately, been granted a long reunion with his mother. All involved were aware of the urgency of the situation. Button had asked, at F’Knah’s request, whether Cap’s mother had any friends or relatives elsewhere. Even as the question had been posed, Cap had protested, impressing the urgency of his search for Stem upon all present.

Ultimately, it hadn’t mattered. There was nobody to whom he might be sent. Both of Cap’s parents had been born in the village, and both sets of grandparents had been dead for several years. Cap’s father was missing, presumed dead, and precious few residents of Dark Hollow even knew where the other Shrouder settlements were. F’Knah had seemed almost embarrassed to admit that the Regulan grasp of Shroud geography was similarly lacking.

“I want to go to Grazer and Biter.” Cap said, adamantly. “Apparently they’re hiding so well that none of the soldiers can find them, so I should be safe there, right? And Grazer must be able to give me a lead on Stem. They were together the day of the invasion.”

His mother was still wary of revealing their whereabouts, but ultimately, she came around to his line of reasoning. After all, he couldn’t stay with her, so it was a case of choosing between hiding him in the town, and consigning him to the wilderness.

“… Alright.” She sighed, letting out a long exhalation of relieved tension. “In most places around here, if you dig a hole, it’ll fill with water right away. But there’s one building with a room underground. It was built to keep the water out, long ago.”

“What?” Cap was disbelieving. The idea that you could build something underground was thoroughly alien to him.

His mother glanced warily at Button and F’Knah once more, and then gave up the secret. “It’s under the temple. There’s a secret room. Grazer and Biter are hiding down there.”

After some hurried provisions were put together by Cap’s mother, the party of four took to the streets. They moved in the same fashion as before, with F’Knah striding ahead to locate and distract patrolling soldiers while the other three crept behind, Button giving silent signals to direct Cap and his mum.

It was very late at night now, and many of the privates who were supposed to be doing the rounds had crept off to shirk their duty. The short journey passed without incident, and eventually, the four of them arrived at the temple. Unlike last time, F’Knah did not assume a distant position: he risked meeting them at the door.

He had to say goodbye.

“Ey’m gowing bak nouw.” He said to Button, giving the Auxiliary an unexpected embrace. “Gud luk. Ey kan givv yew uh hedstarrt, but inn vu mawning ey’ll need tu bee vu wan hu notises yore missin.”

Button froze in shock for a moment, before returning the hug, patting his former superior on the back. “Fank yew suhr. Ey’ll nevah fohrgett thys. Kum tu Sita sumtyme, wenn sheez free.”

“Ey wil.” F’Knah told him, with a smile.

F’Knah’s contact with Cap’s mother was brief at best. She still didn’t trust him, and the hostility of her body language spoke for itself. He offered her a few muffled statements that sounded like condolences, and could not seem to meet her eye.

Next, the officer squatted down on his haunches, and ruffled Cap’s hair in a thoroughly patronising manner. He rattled off some English, which, like the sentences before it, Cap failed utterly to understand.

“What did he say?” Cap asked Button.

“He said you’re a real man, to be so determined to help your sister. He said you remind him of me.”

Button gave a small, proud chuckle.

“He also said something else.” Button went on. “It’s an English saying. It’s a little hard to translate into Agarthan.”

“Can you try?” Cap asked. Truth be told, he had taken to F’Knah.

“The best I can do is probably… “ Button paused to think. “Don’t let the cruel people erode you.”

With that, F’Knah departed.

—————————-

The Priest, all told, had not been pleased to see Cap. He had expressed concerns over having to feed two illegitimate boarders already. Stern glares and firm reassurances from his mother had finally swayed the man, and a covered trap door in a cluttered corner was hurriedly cleared, then thrown wide.

It was the turn of Cap’s mother to bid him goodbye now.

“My boy…” She began, crouching down to hug him close again, his feet almost lifting from the floor even in this position. “I… can’t stop you, can I.”

Cap nuzzled into his mother’s chest and neck, breathing in her familiar smell. This might be the last time I get to hug her, he realised, if I fail.

“I’m sorry, mum…” He held the tears back successfully, this time. “I can’t just give up on Stem. And I can’t let these… these…  terrible men take our village. I’ll do whatever I can.”

His mother smiled at him, the concern in her face giving way to pride. “You have a lot of your father in you.” She told him.

“I love you, mummy.” He could barely hold back his crying this time.

“I love you too, my little boy. If you change your mind, and want to stay here, nobody will think less of you.” She gave him one last close squeeze, kissing his forehead.

“I might see you before then.” He said, steeling himself. “If you bring me food.”

“I will.” She smiled. “If you’re still here.”

Cap turned his back, raised his shoulders, and straightened his posture. Descending a ladder with pride was difficult, but he managed it.

For the first time, his mother saw her husband in him.

“Thank you, Auxiliary Button.” She extended her hand to the soldier, who took it eagerly. “May you succeed in freeing Sita.”

“Thank you, Ma’am.” He grasped her hand in both of his.

“If we ever meet again,” She said, “Call me Petal.”

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